Interview Date: June 24, 2014
Following in the footsteps of giants can be a daunting task. Baseball is filled with the children of former players struggling to find their own place on the field. Derrick May is in a unique position to understand both sides of this challenge.
Derrick May is the son of Dave May, a legendary member of the Milwaukee Brewers. He is best known for his time with the Chicago Cubs, who drafted him in the first round. For many players, it is overwhelming to realize they are considered one of the top talents in the world. “I never really thought about it in that grand of a scope. When I signed with the Cubs, I took a look around and knew I had work to do if I wanted to get to the Major Leagues. I realized that really quickly. I could see there were guys out there who were better than me. Looking back at that now, I realize that I was only 17, but that never factored into my thought process at all back then.”
It was not just the Cubs management that saw potential in Derrick May. At the time, Billy Williams was a coach for Chicago. In his book, My Sweet Swinging Lifetime with the Cubs, Williams wrote about how amazing it was to train a talent as full of potential as that of May. “Billy Williams was a very positive influence in my time with the Cubs. He was a calming influence on the bench and day-to-day. My only regret is that I didn’t ask the right questions. As a hitting coordinator/coach, I know a lot more about hitting than I ever did as a player. I wish I had asked more about his process of hitting. For example, what was his thought process going into each season, each game, or even each at-bat? Did he ever walk up looking for a walk? Did he ever intentionally adjust his approach depending on the pitcher? There were so many questions I could have asked.”
May’s time with the Cubs would come to an end as a result of the baseball strike of 1994. When play resumed in 1995, May was now playing for the less than stellar Brewers. “After a slow start, I was able to pick it up. To my surprise, during a game against Toronto, I found out I was traded to the Houston Astros! I couldn’t show it, but I was jumping up and down inside. The Brewers were a team of great individuals that was not translating to a lot of wins. The next day, I was in Houston. I looked around and was playing with Luis Gonzales, Phil Plantier, Derek Bell, Brian Hunter, John Cangelosi, and Milt Thompson. I wondered how I was ever going to get to play. But in the few days that follow, Gonzales and Service were traded to the Cubs. Plantier was traded to the Padres. Things started working out for me and that team took shape.”
He loved his time with the Astros for many reasons, not the least of which was they were winning games. “It was just a really fun team and it was fun going to the park every day. It seemed like something exciting was happening every night. I attributed it to the coaching staff and my teammates. We had great leadership with Biggio, Bagwell, Swindell, and Drabek. Terry Collins and the hitting coach, Steve Henderson, were great. The fans were great. The whole atmosphere was just like a family. But the most memorable thing about 1995 was the brawl with the Cincinnati Reds. It got nasty because Bagwell was hit with a pitch which was perceived as intentional by the X-Man, Xavier Hernandez. I remember Mike Simms and Eddy Taubensee mixing it up. Mike Henneman was restraining Doug Drabek and there were mini brawls everywhere. I wasn’t playing that day and came off of the bench. After everything settled, I was called to pinch-hit with the bases loaded and hit a grand slam!”
In 2001, hoping to keep his baseball career going, May began playing baseball in Japan. While reflecting on his time in Japan, he went into the attacks of September 11th, 2001. “It was one of the scariest and uneasy times to be out of the country. I was in Osaka, with my interpreter Tateki Uchibori, or Bori as I called him. We passed by a department store after a game and saw the footage of the first plane hitting. I thought it was just a plane gone off course, random. But then I saw the other one hit and it wasn’t until the next day that we heard there might be more attacks and that the local government suspected American citizens would be targeted. Other American teammates and I were eventually sent home to be with our families.” He would spend another two years playing in Japan before returning to the US to work for the Cardinals as a coach, which he is still doing to this day.
Between Derrick and Dave May, 22 seasons and an unimaginable number of amazing plays have been performed. But the legacy of the May Family might not be over yet. Derrick is looking at the prospect of knowing what it is like to be both the son and father of major league baseball players. “It could happen. I have two sons who play at Villanova. I was fortunate enough to follow in my father’s footsteps and fortunate enough to have kids who want to follow in mine. What I hope to pass along to my boys, Derrick, Donovan, and Devon, is that through failure, continual reflection, and fortitude, I continue to grow as a son, a father, and as a man.”